As summer goes on, here in the south, we face relentless heat. While the sun pours down, we need to stay safe. Extreme heat is the most dangerous type of severe weather in the United States, but there are actions we can take in preparation to protect our loved ones and communities from extreme heat events and related power outages. Learn what actions to take before, during, and after to stay safe and healthy.
The first step you can take towards heatwave preparedness is to ensure that you know the types of notifications you will receive during a heatwave, and what to do when you receive them. You should pay attention when the National Weather Service issues heat advisories and excessive heat warnings, as well as local weather forecasters. You may hear the following terms when a heatwave is predicted: Excessive Heat Outlook, Excessive Heat Watch, and Excessive Heat Warning/Advisory.
Excessive Heat Outlook: Be Aware! An Excessive Heat Outlook means that there is potential for an excessive heat event within the next 3-7 days. This statement is issued to provide information to individuals who may need considerable time to prepare for the heat event.
Excessive Heat Watch: Be Prepared! An Excessive Heat Watch means that conditions are favorable for an excessive heat event within the near future, 24-72 hours or 2-3 days. This statement is issued when the risk of an extreme heat event increases, but its exact occurrence and timing are not certain.
Excessive Heat Warning/Advisory: Time to Take Action! An excessive heat warning or an excessive heat advisory is issued within 12 hours (or half a day) before an extremely dangerous heat condition. At this point, it is important to take immediate precautions to avoid heat-related illnesses for yourself, your loved ones, and your community.
Before the Heat Wave:
Being prepared minimizes risks, injuries, and other unfortunate incidents that can happen because of certain conditions. There are plenty of actions you can take before a heatwave occurs to stay safe! These include the following main areas: Hydration, Supplies, Home, and Place.
Hydration: We all know keeping hydrated is vital to not only our health and survival but even more important during a heatwave. Drinking enough water is the main action you can take to prevent heat-related illness. An average person needs about three-quarters of a gallon of fluid every day! Here are some hydration tips:
– Drink lots of water!
– Stay away from sugary, caffeinated, and alcoholic drinks, which can dehydrate you. Water is your best friend!
– In general, eating meals and snacks throughout the day with adequate water intake is enough to maintain electrolytes and replace salt lost when you sweat.
– Certain medical conditions and medications may indicate that you need to drink more water. In this case, you should be sure to talk to your healthcare provider.
Supplies: It’s important to gather food, water, medicine, and other necessities in advance because stores and pharmacies might be closed during an extreme heat event. Organize your supplies into a Go-Kit and a Stay-at-Home Kit.
– Go-Kit: contains 3 days supplies that are easy to carry with you.
– Stay-at-Home Kit: contains 2 weeks of supplies if you need to stay at home.
– Have a 1-month supply of medications in a child-proof container.
– Make sure to keep personal, financial, and medical records safe.
Home: You can take action to keep your home cool during an extreme heat event.
– Cover windows with drapes or shades.
– Weather-strip doors and windows.
– Use window reflectors, like aluminum-foil-covered cardboard, to reflect heat outside.
– Add insulation. This keeps the heat out!
– Use a powered attic ventilator or attic fan to regulate the heat levels of your attic by clearing the hot air.
– Install window air conditioners and insulate them.
Place: Don’t have air conditioning at home? Identify a place where you can spend the warmest part of the day in an extreme heat event. Spending a few hours each day in air conditions can prevent or reduce the chances of heat-related illnesses, so finding a place with adequate air conditioning is important! Here are some steps you can take:
– Contact a nearby neighbor, friend, or relative who has air conditioning.
– Check to see if shopping malls or public libraries are open.
– Find out if your community plans to open public cooling centers.
During the Heat Wave:
Stay Connected: Stay Connected: NEVER leave infants, children, older adults, individuals with disabilities, or pets in a vehicle unattended. Cars can heat up very quickly, up to extremely dangerous temperatures, even if you have a window cracked open.
– Check-in on older adults and individuals with chronic health conditions at least twice every day. Make sure they are OK and try to help them out. You can do this by asking these questions:
– Are they hydrated and drinking enough water?
– Do they have access to air conditioning? If not, is there somewhere you can take them?
– Do they know how to keep cool?
– Do they show any signs of heat stress?
– Be on the lookout for signs of heat-related illness. Act right away if you notice someone with any symptoms.
– If someone is showing signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke, seek emergency medical care immediately.
Stay Hydrated: Staying hydrated is an absolute must during heat events and hot weather in general. The following tips are important:
– Drink plenty of fluids throughout the day, not only when you’re thirsty. Avoid sugary, caffeinated, or alcoholic drinks (these dehydrate you!). As tempting as it may seem, avoid icy beverages because these can cause stomach cramps.
– Replace your body’s salt and minerals. Heavy sweating due to the heat removes salt and minerals from your body that need to be replaced. A sports drink or a snack can replace the salt and minerals that are lost when you sweat.
– Don’t forget your pets! Keep them hydrated! Provide plenty of freshwater for your pets and leave the water in a shaded area.
– Warning! If your doctor limits the amount of water you drink or has you on water pills, ask how much you should drink while the weather is hot. If you are on a low-salt diet, have diabetes, high blood pressure, or other chronic conditions, talk with your doctor before drinking a sports beverage.
Stay Cool: Keep your body cool as it faces the extreme heat by following these tips:
– Stay cool indoors by staging in air-conditioned places as much as possible.
– Wear the appropriate clothing! Choose lightweight, light-colored, and loose-fitting clothing. Remember, dark materials attract heat!
– Don’t use an electric fan when the indoor air temperature is over 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Using a fan can be harmful in this situation when indoor air temperatures are hotter than your body’s temperature. This is because fans cause your body to gain heat rather than losing it. Focus on staying hydrated, taking a cool shower or bath, shutting out the sun and heat with curtains, and moving to an air-conditioned place to stay cool.
– Use your stove and oven less.
– Schedule outdoor work and other outdoor activities carefully. Try to limit your outdoor activity to times of the day that are the coolest, like the morning and evening hours. Rest often in shady areas so that your body has time to recover.
– Cut down on exercise during the heat.
– When outdoors, protect yourself from the sun! You can do this by wearing a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen. Make sure to wear sunscreen that says, “broad spectrum” or “UVA/UVB protection”.
How to Treat Heat-Related Illness: Sometimes, life does not go how we plan, and we may find ourselves dealing with an unfortunate situation with a heat-related illness. It’s important to know how to recognize and respond to the 3 main heat-related illnesses to help yourself, your loved ones, and your community. These illnesses are Heat Cramps, Heat Exhaustion, and Heat Stroke.
Heat Cramps: These are muscle spasms, in the abdomen, arms or calves, caused by a large loss of salt and water in the body.
– Heavy sweating during intense exercise
– Muscle pain or spasms
– Stop all of the physical activity and move the person experiencing the cramps to a cool place
– Have the person drink water or a sports drink
– Instruct the person to wait for cramps to go away before resuming physical activity
– Get medical help right away if cramps last longer than 1 hour.
Heat Exhaustion: This is a severe heat-related illness that requires emergency medical treatment.
– Heavy sweating
– Cold, pale, and clammy skin
– Fast, weak pulse
– Nausea or vomiting
– Muscle cramps
– Tiredness or weakness
– Brief fainting (passing out)
– Move the person to a cool place
– Loosen their clothes
– Put cool, wet cloths on their body, use misting and fanning, or help them take a cool bath
– Have the person sip water
Get medical help right away if:
– Vomiting occurs
– Symptoms get worse
– Symptoms last longer than 1 hour
– Confusion develops
Heat Stroke: This is the most serious medical condition caused by extreme heat. It requires immediate emergency treatment. It can result in death without immediate medical attention, so you must be aware of how to recognize and respond to such a situation.
– High body temperature (104°F or higher)
– Hot, red, dry, or damp skin
– Fast, strong pulse
– Losing consciousness (passing out)
– Call 911 right away — heat stroke is a medical emergency, then:
– Move the person to a cooler place
– Help lower the person’s temperature with a cool or cold bath, misting, fanning, or applying cool cloths, if a bath is not available.
– Do not give the person anything to drink.
After the Heat Wave: There are still actions you can take to deal with the after-effects of a heatwave. These can be categorized as Safety, Healthy, and Self-Care.
Safety: Here are some basics to check after a heatwave.
– Is the power out? Make sure to use flashlights or battery-powered lanterns instead of candles to reduce the risk of fires.
– Prevent carbon monoxide poisoning! Do not use gasoline, propane, natural gas, or charcoal-burning devices inside a home, basement, garage, tent, or camper, or even outside near an open window. Carbon monoxide is sneaky: it can’t be seen or smelled, but it can kill you fast. If you start to feel sick, dizzy, or weak, get outside to fresh air right away without delay.
Healthy: Here are some basic tips to stay healthy after a heatwave:
– When in doubt, throw it out! If food got wet or warm, throw it out!
– Ask your healthcare provider or doctor about using refrigerated medicines that got warm. This is important to check!
Self-Care: You are important! Make sure that while you are looking out for your loved ones and community, you are also taking sufficient time to care for yourself! Mental health is just as important as physical health.
– It’s normal to have a lot of varying feelings. You are not alone.
– Eat healthy food and get enough sleep if you are feeling stress. This will help you feel better and can reduce your stress levels.
– Remember, you can contact the Disaster Distress Helpline for free if you need to talk to someone at 1-800-985-5990 or text “TalkWithUs” to 66746.